Gay Fiction vs. M/M Romance

Many people across the Internet have been voicing conflicting opinions about the rise of sales in m/m fiction. Most of this has been due to the fact that m/m romance does not reflect realistically on the LGBT community and this has many people upset. What many people do not seem to realize, though, is that gay fiction and m/m or f/f romance are not the same thing. Hopefully, with a bit of education, this lack of knowledge can be reduced and people can begin to understand that these two are not one in the same, nor are they even directly involved with each other.

Gay Fiction is not Romance

Think of it like this: chick lit is not romance. There may be romantic plotlines, but the ultimate goal of chick lit is to show the true lives of female characters. It addresses issues of modern women and most of it is rather fun and light as opposed to angsty and overly dramatic. It's about living life and being a woman, from jobs to motherhood to children to romance to anything you can imagine. But romance is not the storyline and the characters do not act the same as they would in a romance novel.

That being said, gay fiction is about living life as a gay person (or bisexual, pansexual, asexual, the term gay is used because that's the term most used for this fiction). Like chick lit, the goal of the story is not romance. The story realistically touches on just living life with a sexuality that is not heterosexual. This is not the same as m/m romance. This mindset must first be changed before people begin to see that there is a difference between the two literature forms.

Romance is not Meant to be Realistic

If any of you have read a romance, whether you enjoyed it or not, you probably noticed a lot of unrealistic things about the novel. The characters constantly think about each other, there was likely a Happy Ever After or Happily For Now ending, they fell in love very rapidly, the sex was wildly passionate and amazing. Obviously, not what most people experience in real life, right? Some people do, but the majority of us are not going to run into that tall, dark, handsome stranger, be swept off our feet, and be married a week later and live happily forever. It happens, but can we really say this is even slightly the norm for most people?

That's the point of romance fiction. It's about fantasy love, about finding the person (or people) perfect for you and doing all you can to be happy. Most romances also feature sweepingly dramatic plots, such as murder, embezzlement, you name it. Some, like many of the Harlequin lines, read like soap operas. So be it. This is romance.

So it only makes sense that m/m romance fits into this too despite the fact it is not about a hero and heroine but rather a hero and hero. Your story doesn't magically become something else because your characters are two men (or three or two women or three or more what have you). If it's a romance, it's still going to follow many of the tropes and ideals of romance fiction, and trying to pass it off as gay fiction is just ridiculous. Would you try to pass off a Hannah Howell romance as chick lit? Do all of those romances featuring these Highlander studs really give an insight into the female mind, or are they really just fun tales of love and sex that have (usually) happy endings?

Romance Does Not Fit Every Single Audience. In Fact, it has a Specific Target Audience: Women.

It sounds like a cliché, but the numbers don't lie. Most fans of romance are female. Not to say that all romance fans are female; there are some males. But more are female than male, if you want to get offended get your guy buddies to start reading because you're going to have to top million of girls.

And m/m romance is not an exception; it's written for women. Some of you are probably going to reel back like, No way, it has gay characters and they're men, you can't seriously be writing for women, that's not possible. Actually, it is. No matter what the gender of the characters, if the story is a romance, it is automatically going to reach more women than it is men. There could be many reasons to this, but the simple fact is, the romance audience is largely women.

Consider Dreamspinner Press, one of the most popular m/m romance publishers online. The majority of the writers are female, and a good number of reviews left on the novels written, whether posted on Amazon or Goodreads, are by women as well.

Gay Fiction Does Not Fit Every Single Audience. In Fact, it Has a Specific Target Audience: The LGBT Community.

Like chick lit is aimed toward women as well as romance, gay fiction as aimed at the LGBT community. This is mostly due to the fact that, of course, it is about the LGBT community, its members, and how they live their lives. Though many straight people have no doubt encountered or read these novels, the fact is, they are mostly for the LGBT community. Many if not all of the authors are of the LGBT community as well, though there are straight writers, too. These books are typically published either in small niches of mainstream companies or from small LGBT presses, many of which are now online.

While "Gay" and "M/M" can Mean the Same Thing, Their Meanings Change When They are Applied to Their Separate Genres

Once you start tagging literature, some words take on new meanings. This has been a regular occurrence since the literature tagging systems began and feature heavily online, where these tags are usually the easiest way to find novels by typing them into the search engines of online bookstores and booksellers. What must be remembered, though, is the genre that the tag appears in. A self-harm book marked as Teen might be about a teenager struggling with self-harm whereas a self-harm book marked as Erotica might contain some form of pain play.

"Gay" is put in front of fiction, and the genre describes gay fiction. When you put "gay" or "m/m" in front of romance, the genre describes romance, and romance rules typically apply. Though there may be novels out there tagged as "m/m fiction," gay fiction appears to be the most popular way to display the novels, just as "m/m romance" appears to be the most popular way to display romance novels featuring two men.

Gay Fiction Usually Takes Place in the Contemporary World; Romance Does Not Have To

One thing most notable about many of the titles sold through Dreamspinner Press, for example, is that many of these novels take place in alternate universes where being a man and having a man for a partner are not only not looked down upon but normal and even expected. This falls into the world of "fantasy," and this is rather popular for the readers who do not want to delve heavily into issues of being in the closet or being under prejudice for sexuality.

Some of these novels even take place during historical times, when it was not only frowned upon to be anything other than heterosexual but even illegal and punishable by death. However, many of these writers choose to alter these universes. Since romance plays heavily upon fantasy, this is an accepted practice usually only criticized by people who are not into anything but contemporary or "realistic" romance.

However, writing gay fiction in a world absent of prejudice and struggle would largely be frowned upon since this genre, after all, is supposed to be rather realistic. It is supposed to touch upon what these people go through and how they live their lives. How much prejudice is going to exist in a world where the writer has deliberately pushed it to the backburner and out of the way? Consider how many contemporary novels that are criticized for not being realistic enough; how would a realistic genre get away with it?

Romance Characters Act One Way; Realistic Characters Act Another

Most people who encounter romance would say the characters act realistically given the way they are written and the world they are written in, but let's face it: most romance characters would probably be seen as strange or even insane in the real world. Consider a novel where the hero chases after the heroine because she runs away after a fight. Though in many romance novels, she is portrayed as wanting him to come after her, would this be as okay in a real world setting where she doesn't want him to come after her? Probably not. We might even become worried for her safety if the guy is the same brooding, angst-ridden heroes of many romance novels because some of them would appear possibly abusive in the real world.

The mindset of a romance novel character is different from that of a real person even when they are extremely realistic. Things most people would never be able to justify are justifiable in a romance because that's just the way it is. Are the majority of strong, resilient, independent women going to be swayed by a guy who oozes masculinity and probably portrays everything desirable if you want the gender role of a man? Probably not in the real world, but then, romance novels are not the real world. Also consider this: Despite multiple studies showing that most women are attracted to masculine men but marry less masculine, even feminine men, romance showcases almost exclusively strong, domineering Greek gods.

Yet again, this is because romance is fantasy, especially romances involving sex scenes. The point is to reach the fantasy man of the target audience. In other words, the hunky, gorgeous men that the women seem to find the most sexually attractive. This is the majority, not the overall desire of every audience member (give me a skinny, pretty, tattooed, long-haired boy over Adonis ever day of the week and thrice on Sundays), but the point is to reach the most people possible with what you have. That being said, it is important to note that m/m romance has more variety in its men than hetero romance. While most hetero romance features these large, muscled men who never seem to make it to the gym yet still have firm muscles, m/m romance can and has featured everything from these guys to smaller, more effeminate twinks to the über-amazing, heavyset and often cuddly bears.

Gay fiction, as said before, is realistic fiction and therefore the goal is to make the characters and their lives as true-to-life as possible while still telling a dynamic story. These characters will not always fall for the clever lines. The fights might ruin a relationship versus only adding to the overall angst and contributing to the ending. The sex might be awful. The point is to make it real versus making it a fantasy.

In Conclusion

Overall, with romance and gay fiction so markedly different, it is hard to believe that people are so bothered by how m/m romance affects the genre of gay fiction. Point blank, they have little to nothing to do with each other beyond perhaps sharing the sexuality of the characters. While knowledge of the LGBT community may be important for a contemporary romance, for instance, it is not needed for every single m/m or f/f romance. In a genre that does not focus on the real lives of realistic characters, almost anything goes.

Romance is not meant to reflect realistically upon any community, whether it be the LGBT community or the hetero community; it is meant to tap into the fantasies of the writers and the readers to give them a satisfying reading experience. Gay fiction is meant to. What might be best for the gay fiction community is that it stops criticizing romance for not being realistic and, just perhaps, starts to work on accumulating more realistic stories to better reflect its culture.

Note: Though m/m romance has been used throughout the majority of this article, that is not to say that f/f romance is not as good as not as important. Unfortunately, f/f romance has had trouble finding its niche in the world, and so m/m romance was used if only to reflect the majority of the same-gender romance genre.

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